HVAC Systems and COVID-19
Discussions on HVAC systems and maintenance best practices have become prominent amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With this development comes the recognition that buildings can no longer neglect their HVAC systems, particularly as it relates to adhering to maintenance best practices and enhancing maintenance programs.
While there are other control methods, such as social distancing and increasing disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, that take more importance in ensuring a safe indoor environment, there are some recommended HVAC controls that building owners and operators should be aware of, and that is what this article focuses on.
The Role of HVAC in Mitigation Efforts
Amidst the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous stakeholders were debating the role HVAC systems play in virus transmission. In fact, speculations and rumors soared. As an example, at one point, some were asking if air-conditioning systems should be turned off.
Thereafter, on April 20, 2020, ASHRAE published two official statements to provide guidance on the operation and maintenance of HVAC systems in buildings.
We’ve included them below.
ASHRAE’s Statement on Airborne Transmission of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19:
“Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”
Note that their statement deems airborne transmission of COVID-19 “sufficiently likely.”
ASHRAE’s Statement on Operation of Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning Systems to Reduce SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Transmission:
“Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air. Unconditioned spaces can cause thermal stress to people that may be directly life threatening and that may also lower resistance to infection. In general, disabling of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems is not a recommended measure to reduce the transmission of the virus.”
You can find these two statements in their Emerging Issues Brief. ASHRAE also has a dedicated COVID-19 Resources webpage that provides crucial information on building reopening and operational best practices.
Recommended HVAC Management in Commercial Buildings
The HVAC management strategies that are being looked at pertain to filtration and ventilation as well as temperature and humidity control.
Buildings should increase air filtration to as high as possible (e.g., MERV 13). How high depends on system type, as this improvement in central air filtration should not significantly diminish the design airflow.
Enhancing air filtration comes with maintenance requirements. Ensure you change your filters at the right time and in accordance with your preventative maintenance plan (PMP). The fact that higher quality filters are now being recommended means that there’s a higher probability of these filters clogging sooner.
As a result, set alerts and reminders accordingly, like in Trakref. Also, keep a log of change outs. Trakref has built these best practices into our V3 solution.
As you increase fresh air in a building, it will put additional demand on your ventilation. That’s why it’s important to keep track of your maintenance round data, and watch the trends.
Temperature and Humidity Control
As indoor temperature and humidity set points are scrutinized (e.g., recent guidance entertains 40-60% RH), building owners and operators should be aware of the impact these changes could have on your units.
Ensure Proper Asset Tracking Now
With calls for enhancing filtration and improving ventilation, you need to have a way to measure what is happening overtime.
The fact is, these new parameters are going to put additional strain on HVAC systems. And it isn’t like there isn’t already strain on a system; for instance, lest not forget an excessive refrigerant leak rate already puts that on a system.
Even more, the average refrigerant leak rate is 25%, so most systems already endure strain from this.
Thus, the days of waiting for intermittent service visits to check on your HVAC systems are over. Ultimately, you want to have a birds-eye view of what’s going on, so you don’t get caught off guard with a system failing, right as your building is trying to reopen and return to some sense of a new normal.
More than a software, Trakref is an HVAC/R rules engine embedded with maintenance best practices that guides your entire workforce.
We are ready to help you manage your HVAC systems before they manage you.
Ted is the President & CEO of Trakref, a cloud-based HVAC/R and refrigerant management software company that provides unprecedented solutions for commercial properties. He has spent more than 20 years in the HVAC/R industry, even owning and operating one of the nation’s largest refrigerant reclaim and recycling companies.